AC Milan's new recruit Mark van Bommel will make his first Serie A outing when the league leaders take on Catania on Saturday.
The Dutch international, until Tuesday the captain of Bayern Munich, joined Milan five months before his contract in Germany was due to expire, reportedly on a free transfer. The former Barcelona and PSV midfielder, who has won 66 caps for the Netherlands, made his debut immediately for Milan, alongside compatriot and fellow new recruit Urby Emanuelson, in their Italian Cup tie against Sampdoria on Wednesday.
Van Bommel shone throughout the match and was on hand with two decisive passes for Pato as Milan ran out 2-1 winners. "Van Bommel did a good job," Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri acknowledged. "In the first half, he had to find his place on the pitch, because he played out of his usual role. He did better after the break. He and Emanuelson demonstrated that they can be useful for us."
But Catania promise to be tough rivals despite being placed only 16th in the league. The Sicily-based side have picked up 19 of their 22 points at home, with victories over Parma, Cesena, Udinese, Bari and Brescia. They have also managed draws against Bologna, Napoli, Fiorentina and Chievo.
Their home record notwithstanding, Allegri remained optimistic yet cautious. "We haven't yet killed off the championship, there's still a long way to go, and a lot of match-ups between the front runners. We're still missing 36 points," he said.
Napoli continue chase
Second-placed Napoli entertain Sampdoria having been pushed to an energy-sapping penalty shoot-out against Inter Milan on Wednesday in Cup action. The Neapolitans lost the shoot-out 5-4 after extra time finished goalless, but will have to fall back on all their resources to master Sampdoria, sitting in ninth spot. "We can dream, but you mustn't live on dreams," warned Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis, one of the drivers behind the Italian film industry, of his side pushing for the Serie A title.
Napoli have a solid team, with Slovakian Marek Hamsik and Argentinian Ezequiel Lavezzi the midfield generals ahead of captain and key defender Paolo Cannavaro. But the statistics show they are only fourth best in defence, sixth in attack and stand 2-for-3 in matches with the big clubs.
Since beating AS Roma and Juventus, they have lost to the two Milan clubs and Lazio. But Napoli have a great star in Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani, a prolific marksman who this season has racked up 14 goals in Serie A, seven in the UEFA Europa League and five with his national team.
"We are not fixing ourselves limits," said Cavani. "We're enjoying a great period and we hope to continue like that. We're taking Sundays (matches) one by one."
Lazio, in fourth, face Fiorentina in Saturday's other fixture, while Brescia entertain Chievo in Sunday's early kick-off. In other high-profile games, third-placed Roma travel to Bologna, fifth-placed Inter Milan host Palermo, and Udinese travel to Juventus in the day's late game.